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Stars: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Julian McMahon, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ernest Borgnine, James Remar, Richard Dreyfuss

Director: Robert Schwentke

Experience had my heart sinking at the prospect of yet another movie derived from a graphic novel.

It didn’t take long, however, for me to realise experience is a poor critical benchmark. ‘Red’ (“Retired, extremely dangerous”) may not be art as we know it, Jim, (how could it be art when there are no subtitles?) but it is fast-moving fun, driven by entertaining characters, an ingenious incident-packed screenplay, brisk direction and a prime cast to cheerfully enter into the light-hearted spirit of the affair.

Director Schwentke wastes no time getting down to business. Retired CIA agent Willis (in an enjoyably self-mocking characterisation) survives an attempt to kill him by a CIA black ops unit and reassembles old CIA comrades Freeman, Malkovich (in the least irritating performance of his career) and Mirren to take on those seeking to kill him and to rescue his romantic interest Parker. Realism may not be a priority in the proceedings but entertainment most certainly is. There are no longueurs, simply a non-stop conveyor belt of action, shoot-outs (watching Mirren handle a selection of automatic weapons with lethal mastery should encourage reviewers to consider very carefully before criticising her), flying bullets, general mayhem and car chases.

Schwentke strikes an impressive balance between action and acting. There are no weak portrayals. Mirren slyly lives up to her charming job description – “I kill people, dear” she tells a questioner, Parker puts credible dramatic-comic meat on the bones of her ‘female-in-peril’ character, Freeman is dignified but not pompously so, Malkovich’s murderous drug-created loony is a pleasure to watch and Cox – the screen’s finest Hannibal Lecter ever – gives Tom Wilkinson a much-needed lesson on how to create a credible foreign accent as a Russian rogue. Dreyfuss turns in his best performance in years and what a pleasure it is to see 93-year-old Borgnine in a pleasing cameo role.

I realise the line “Hey Frank, what’s going on?” was not actually aimed at me. But I’ll answer it any way. What’s going on was a thoroughly entertaining action comedy that doesn’t take itself seriously but still adds up to a seriously enjoyable show.

Alan Frank

USA 2010. UK Distributor: E1 films. Colour.
111 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Oct 2010